ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What are social goods?

Updated on March 31, 2013

The idea of social/public goods is derived from ancient Greek ideas of community and polis, with people working together with synergy to achieve a common good for society. With polis, there are public interest issues including private benefits and actions of government that come at a public cost (i.e. land use, minimum wage), and social benefits that necessitate private sacrifices (i.e. minimum wage, unemployment, construction of an airport that means more convenience as well as noise, employer-mandated health insurance). Both impact the common good in different ways, and you can create and develop social goods that benefit society.

You can produce public goods without using public funds, like increasing neighborhood safety when residents buy alarm systems or live in a gated community; this results in less money needed to be spent for public safety and law enforcement.

Mixed goods are an example of social goods combined with private goods, in that benefits are both personal and societal. Public immunization is an example; both the immunized individual as well as the public benefit. School vouchers can be positive or negative, depending on the perspectives of different citizens.

Merit goods are privately produced goods that society wishes to encourage because they’re desirable, like Medicare. These can be similar to social goods in that they can be to the public benefit… though things that are desired are not always to the general public benefit. Private goods can be publicly provided.

Unlike private goods, social goods are non-rival in the nature of access; consumption does not diminish its benefit from another use. They are not traded in a marketplace, and you can’t sell public goods in units. For instance, fire services are consumed but are still available for others in the public, while if someone consumes a gallon of milk, no one else can directly benefit from the milk. With private goods, there is the precondition of ownership that doesn’t really exist for social goods. You can’t internalize the costs of privately produced goods.

It’s often difficult to determine whether one citizen has benefited from a service more than another; this can lead to issues of equity, which will be discussed in the last question. There’s the free-rider problem where a citizen gets the benefit of a service or program without paying for it; access is not directly related to tax payments. There is also no private-market mechanism at work for social goods to determine how much of a service should be provided. People are more likely to be excluded through private goods because social goods are often intended for everyone in the public, and should be more accessible.

Other differences between private goods and social goods include quality (where competition in the private sector may encourage better quality in products but also worse quality in a fight for lower prices); created obsolescence (private goods may just be repackaged to be sold and may not actually improve); and values (social goods tend to have the welfare of the public in mind to more of an extent). With social goods, marginal costs aren’t a factor as they are in private markets.

Since they are not traded in a public marketplace, social goods are publicly financed and allocated funding through the adoptive budget process, dependent on things like available funding, cost-benefit, the importance to constituents, the nature of the service (essential or nonessential?), and the beliefs of decision makers. The level of funding determines how much of the social good will be consumed. Part of the function of the budget is to give interest groups a voice in the allocation of funding. These decision makers may determine the burden of who pays versus who receives the service. Social goods may be provided by government in ways that are private (like Medicare, which is government-funded by provided privately) and regulated.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Northern California

      Hey, thanks for the clarification! :D

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Participedia differentiates between social and public goods, but doesn't define the difference. I came here when searching for the difference but found the two being used interchangeably. I came back to help clarify after I found out the difference elsewhere:

      Public goods - not possible to compete for or exclude them

      Private goods - possible to compete for or exclude them

      Social goods - public can bypass potential competition and exclusivity

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great insight! Thanks

    • road2hell profile image


      7 years ago from Linden, AB

      Right on! Very interesting and useful!

    • profile image

      Johnson Iferunwa Margret 

      7 years ago

      Nice one. Thank you!!

    • profile image

      mohsin pakistani 

      7 years ago

      great efforts and good working.

      thanks a nice of you!!!!

    • stars439 profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Great Hub. GBY. Love It.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Good explanation. Bt it is not satisfying me as it should have

    • toknowinfo profile image


      8 years ago

      Loved the topic! You bring up a lot to think about and I am so glad I found your hubs. Keep up the writing, maybe we can change the world, one hub at a time.

    • lahoriamplifier profile image


      8 years ago from Lahore


    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      8 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Well done explanation of social goods. Every society must find their balance between social and private. The right is making the most noise right now excoriating public spending for social goods. This was caused by the stimulus bill and the health care bill. Many feel that the only social good is defense spending which I find absurd. A balance must be found to protect the good life of our society and the allowance of private companies to thrive. Less rhetoric is needed calling every piece of social spending socialism. Less demonizing of the Tea Party is also needed. They are right that we must soon balance our budgets. We need more explanations such as yours to find balance.

    • katiem2 profile image


      8 years ago from I'm outta here

      What are social goods is great, I enjoyed your insightful report on this topic and learned a thing or two and even better will leave with a fresh new outlook on social needs in terms of social goods verses private goods. Thanks and Peace :)

    • MariannGood profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting reading. Thank you!

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      8 years ago from Queensland Australia

      interesting read...

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you all for your comments, Ralph Deeds, Hello, hello, maven101, tonymac04, and The Rising Glory, and for greatly contributing to the quality of this Hub! This was a pretty cursory summary, and your input is very valuable :)

    • The Rising Glory profile image

      The Rising Glory 

      8 years ago from California

      Well said maven101...I agree with you completely

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      A really interesting analysis that is thoughtful and engaging. Lots to think about.

      Love and peace


    • maven101 profile image


      8 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Many of the social goods mentioned can be provided without government fiat and oversight...Providing numerous bureaucracies to administer certain social goods services has resulted in the creation of a permanent underclass dependent on government largess and bereft of incentives to change...The smallest minority of all, the individual, is becoming a threatened species...Larry

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for an informative read. Very well written hub.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nice hub. Seems to me this country has a shortage of support for social goods greater now than any time in memory.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)